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{I met Ali this past September at the Influence Conference.  We talked very briefly about food allergies and chronic illness, and in the crazy hubbub of the conference didn’t have much chance to connect more than that during the course of the weekend.  But we’ve struck up a friendship via social media, and this girl’s heart is truly a blessing to me.  I love how she shares her story and experiences and shine’s God’s light on it all.  Can’t wait to spend more time with her this September.  Ali, you’ve got a big hug coming your way!!}

Introduce yourself!  Share a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what makes you YOU!

Hi, I’m Ali–lover of Jesus, my husband, kids with special needs, authentic friendship, and vulnerability.

I blog at aliwren.com about wholehearted living and healthy-minded eating, specifically with food allergies. I believe we can all have a full and healthy food life, and that there is not a one-size-fits-all food plan for everyone.

Adam, my writer and journalist hubs, and I have been married for almost 7 years. He is the most patient person I’ve ever met, and shows me daily what it looks like to walk with Jesus.

I just wrapped up my 8th year of teaching elementary special education. My students are amazing! They teach me so much about life and love, overcoming obstacles, and taking risks.

Empathy is simultaneously my greatest strength and my greatest weakness (mostly a strength). I love and crave deep, authentic conversation, and too much small talk makes me anxious. I am an ambivert: about 60% extrovert and 40% introvert most days.

Share your story–how did you come to know Christ?  What have been some big milestones, both good and difficult, of your journey?

I grew up in a Christian home and was very involved in my church all of my childhood life. God has always spoken to me through music. In high school, I was blessed to be a part of a traveling singing group, and we had to memorize Scripture as clues to reach every destination on the 2-week journey each summer. It was like MTV’s Road Rules–youth group version. I was able to travel to the East Coast and the West Coast, and meet people from all walks of life.

Even though I grew up in a Christian home, I was a victim of verbal and emotional abuse from my step-father. My family was heavily involved in church, so this abuse was a dirty, little secret that I kept to myself for many years. During those years of abuse, I journaled my prayers and fears to God. He carried and comforted me, and by His grace, I am standing, and stronger today. And I’m grateful for my journey, because I have a keen sensitivity to others who have suffered abuse. And because I am proof that God never abandons His children.  

I was the pleaser and perfectionist of my family, always striving and performing. Class president, homecoming queen, cheer captain, principal’s pet, you name it. I thought that I had to be perfect in order to be loved. I was constantly seeking to be the best at everything. I allowed perfect to become my identity.

This led me down a path of self-destructive behaviors, which ultimately turned into an eating disorder–that we all know as anorexia–when I was 19. Friends, family, and mentors in college fought for my life and recovery before I was even ready to fight for it myself. In the thick of my anorexia, I journaled and prayed to God that He would not give up on me. That He would help me see myself through His eyes, not through the world’s. God loved me in ways I cannot describe with words. He showed up through the love, support, and pursuit of my family and friends. My understanding of God and His extravagant love for me was truly transformed through that scary experience. He comforted and carried me-yet again-through such a dark and lonely season. After going through anorexia, and recovery, I felt closer to God than I had ever experienced before.

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How have you seen God at work in the hard moments of your journey?  Where has God made beauty in the broken and unexpected places in your life?

Two words: my husband. Around the time of our wedding, the harsh realities of infidelity unraveled in my parents’ marriage. This completely changed the way I viewed marriage, how I viewed my husband, and how I viewed myself. I started to believe the lie that I wasn’t beautiful, and that I wasn’t good enough for my husband. That he would eventually cheat on me, even if he never physically left me. I feared that he was constantly comparing me to other women, and that I would never measure up. So I started to compare myself to every single woman: in person, on television, billboards, in movies. And the trust I vowed to have in my husband on our wedding day started to disintegrate.

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The first few years of marriage were hard. I developed anxiety and depression, and started to notice that my body wasn’t absorbing nutrients. I would look in the mirror and notice that my face was gray and my body was lifeless. Old patterns of anorexia crept back in. Doctors would prescribe me anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication, but instead of helping, they actually made matters worse. Over time, I started to heal physically by eliminating certain foods that were harming my body. Most importantly, I started to heal spiritually by naming my fears to my husband, and confronting them together, praying for healing in the name of God.

God carried us through that season, and our marriage grew stronger. I have a deep appreciation for Adam, and am so thankful he weathered the storms alongside me. I had to learn how to trust God with my fears, and then trust Adam. With a grateful heart, I look back now, and see how beautiful it was to experience God’s presence and healing power in our marriage. One day, we hope to get the chance to mentor a newly married couple.

God has done some major work in my heart to help me overcome the comparison trap. To truly see myself as His beautiful creation, and to believe that I am enough because He created me. No matter what. And to look at other women as His beautiful creation, wanting the best for them, instead of tearing them down by comparison and competition. (Can I get an Amen?)

Why do you think it is important that we share our stories?

I think it’s so easy to see someone on social media, and think they have it all together. When we share the honest and raw pieces of our journeys, people can relate to us. And community forms. And I believe that makes God smile.

Maybe someone reading this is struggling with comparison, or insecurity, or anxiety. Or maybe the aftermath of their parents’ infidelity. Maybe they’re stuck in a place of striving for perfection and they don’t know how to change. Maybe someone is recovering from an eating disorder, or the effects of childhood abuse, or depression. And to read one more story of hope, one more story of redemption, one more story of God’s never-ending love and presence in our lives-maybe that one more story could be enough to believe there is more to their story than this season. There is hope and freedom in complete surrender to God, letting Him shape us and change us. A reminder that He creates beauty out of ashes. He mends broken hearts and loves His sons and daughters more than we could possibly imagine.   

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Have there been any specific Bible verses/songs/soundtracks/books etc. that have made a big impact on your journey?

For as long as I can remember, my life verse has been 2 Timothy 1:7: God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

My anthem has been I am Not Alone by Kari Jobe. I was diagnosed with melanoma this spring, and this song kept coming on the radio. I truly felt God speaking to me through this song. I love the part in the song that says: You will go before me. You will never leave me. There is so much comfort in knowing that we don’t have to go through the hard seasons alone.

A book that has been so helpful in my journey of recovery from people-pleasing and perfection is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I love this quote: “Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. And, without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning.”

What is one thing you would like readers to take away from your story and your experiences?

You are beautiful. You are worthy of His love–no matter what your past looks like, no matter what your present situation is, and no matter the uncertainties your future might hold. God redeems and restores His children. God is redeeming and restoring you.   

{To connect more with Ali, visit her website, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter}

Pictures 1 & 5 taken by Encounter Photography.

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